In the wake of the election, Pennsylvania environmental organizers take stock

A Renewed Commitment

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

In the days after President-elect Donald Trump won a narrow victory in Pennsylvania, statewide environmental group PennFuture gathered a who’s who of past and future advocates in downtown Philadelphia. In attendance were three former heads of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, current state Assembly members, myriad leaders and activists in the movement, and supporter Sen. Bob Casey. Casey reminded the audience that Pennsylvania’s constitution includes, “a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

The packed room of still-in-shock advocates heard from several panels of the politicians and organizers present, who analyzed the election results and asked the question, “Where do we go from here?” Common themes were the importance of continued organizing—especially in the parts of the state where there isn’t strong support on environmental issues—raising more money and getting more progressive candidates to run for office.

Grid asked several statewide environmental groups what was next for them as they regroup after the election. (Among them was the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which declined to comment for this article.)

Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania
Josh McNeil
Executive Director
At its highest levels, the executive branch of the United States government just declared itself an enemy to clean air, clean water and clean energy—the legislative branch was already there. The most powerful man in the world has surrounded himself with oil executives and their political puppets, creating a Cabinet that believes that Grid readers are dangerous radicals who threaten the profits of the world’s largest companies.  

We only win this fight—we only survive this fight—if environmentalists start thinking big. We can’t win with 100,000 members in Pennsylvania. We need 1 million members and 10,000 high-level volunteers. We can’t win with $500,000 budgets; we need to spend millions to hold elected officials accountable.

We need to work together better and to embrace existing strengths. PennFuture has the most effective policy team in Harrisburg, so we’ll follow their lead in the state Legislature. Sierra Club has the widest network of volunteers, so we’re going to support their organizing efforts.

At Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, we know that good laws come from good lawmakers. By the next election, and with the help of concerned citizens, we will have raised more money to help elect pro-environment candidates than any group in Pennsylvania’s history.

PennFuture
Larry Schweiger
President and CEO
Change is imminent. In the new political alignment, where carbon polluters will be menacing and overriding environmental protections, the environmental community must unite and broaden its reach. We must increasingly engage those residing outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and listen to rural constituents to create new relationships and deepen our impact. PennFuture recognizes this and is embarking on a new path to better serve and equip the constituents in the commonwealth. The community needs to innovate, retool and change its approach to expand this critical conversation and its influence. 

In the coming weeks, we will announce new alliances and look forward to building a stronger environmental base to hold policymakers accountable. In the face of urgent threats, we must remain true to our mission by leading the transition to a clean energy economy. We must defend our air, water and land, and empower citizens to build sustainable communities. 

PennEnvironment
David Masur 
Executive Director
Election Day 2016 reminded us that we must remain vigilant and engaged to promote the positive change we want to see in the world. From day one, PennEnvironment has known that we can’t compete with the money, access or influence that polluters and powerful special interests infuse into our political process. But we know that we have the public’s support for protections for clean air, clean water and preserving the places we love. Over the next few years there will be a David vs. Goliath fight that revolves around what we stand for when it comes to defending our environment and the legacy we leave for our children and future generations, and PennEnvironment will be doubling down on educating, mobilizing and engaging our members and concerned Pennsylvanians to stand up, speak truth to power and do what we need to do to defend 50 years of cornerstone environmental protections.

Sierra Club
Joanne Kilgour
Director, Pennsylvania Chapter
As a professional woman, this election hurt—it was a reminder that our society is fraught with injustice. Women, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, trans folks, the disabled—millions of Americans continue to be marginalized, with our very lives at stake. As the state director of an environmental organization, I am also deeply concerned about living under the only head of state in the world to reject the scientific consensus that mankind is driving climate change.

Many of the people and places we love are threatened, and our communities may feel more divided than ever, but we must resist the temptation to fight for just a single issue and work instead to dismantle the systems of oppression that underlay them all. Our lives and our lived experiences are as complex and varied as the social identities that define us, so our strategy must not be built around the environment alone, and our organizing must be intersectional—it must also be honest, deep and based in compassion.